Human and agricultural interests are in conflict with marine environmental and fisheries in the war for water in California. Dave Bitts from the SF Chronicle has a story on 1/22/09 called To save salmon, stop subsidizing toxic farming In this piece he discusses how agribusiness is draining billions of gallons a year from salmon tributaries to arid farmland.
To bring back salmon and other native fish, we must stop depleting the delta by sending millions of acre feet of water each year to the western San Joaquin Valley, where corporate megafarms pay pennies for taxpayer-subsidized water to irrigate cotton and other thirsty crops on arid lands with toxic soil. The biggest of these farms are in the Westlands Water District, long the most powerful player in the state's water politics.
Part of Dave's plan was already enacted when a superior court judge in 2007 recognized the interests of the Delta Smelt and shut down part of the California State Water Project.
A quick History of the California State Water Project. wiki
The California State Water Project, commonly known as the SWP, is the world's largest publicly built and operated water and power development and conveyance system. The SWP was designed and is operated by the California Department of Water Resources. The original purpose of the project was to provide water for arid Southern California which lacks adequate local water resources to provide for the growth the region has experienced. Today, the SWP provides drinking water for over 23 million people and generates an average 6.5 million MWh of hydroelectricity annually. However, as the largest single consumer of power in the state, its net usage is 5.1 million MWh
There are also Federal (yellow lines) and Local (green lines) (Click picture to expand)
There seem to be two main problems when it comes to the state water project's water flows to Westlands Water District.
#1 It takes waters out of natural estuaries hurting Delta Smelt and Salmon populations
#2 The methods of this agricultural district pollutes the ground water, which is then pumped into rivers and streams.
I'm going to focus on #2 in this diary. Continuing the SF Chronicle article..
Meanwhile, the state Water Resources Control Board, which is supposed to be protecting the delta fishery, has turned a blind eye to the depredations of the water export agencies, as have the state Department of Fish and Game and the governor's office.
Westlands Water District irrigates hundreds of thousands of acres of semi-arid land that is tainted with selenium, a highly toxic mineral. Irrigation causes selenium to leach out of the soil.
Twenty-five years ago, Westlands dumped its toxic wastewater at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (picture by Erick Thomas), killing thousands of migratory birds. After the Kesterson disaster came to light, Westlands had a harder time evading the truth about the widespread destruction its irrigation practices caused. But the district farmers haven't learned their lesson.
Toxic Discharge Extension Sought
In an article from 12/28/2008 Jonah Owen Lamb writes that the Grassland Bypass Project wants a 10 year extension to acquire the funds for a water treatment plant. The 10 year extension would allow toxic dumping to continue into the San Joaquin and Merced River. Lamb starts with a description of that Kesterson damage in the mid 80s.
But after a widely publicized biological disaster from selenium buildup at Kesterson Reservoir where many birds and fish died, the reservoir's use as a dumping ground ended. In 1987 the reservoir was declared toxic, drained and finally capped off, according to the USGS.
In 1985 the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program was founded to try to solve the selenium problem. Since 1995 agricultural drainage water has been channeled north through the San Luis Refuge and into the San Joaquin River -- instead of flowing into one fixed locale.
Since the mid-'90s, the quantity of toxic water has gone down, McGahan said. When the program began, about 50,000 acre-feet a year went into the San Joaquin. Now that number is down to 16,000 acre-feet a year. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, or what an average Valley family uses in a year.)
16000 acre.feet per year X 326,000 gallons = 5.214 Billion gallons of water per year of waste water is dumped into an assortment of rivers and streams. Can we really handle 10 more years of dumping 50 Billion gallons of water high in selenium, boron and salt into the rivers and oceans?
Since high levels of those substances can be toxic to crops as well as wildlife, the ground water beneath crop land must be pumped down so it doesn't injure crops
While our crops in mega farms remain uninjured others aren't so lucky. One indicator of the danger of all this dumping are the poisoned Orca whales.
The most contaminated wildlife on Earth—killer whales in the Pacific Northwest—are picking up nearly all their chemicals from Chinook salmon in polluted ocean waters off the West Coast, according to a new scientific study.
The whales, which feed in coastal waters from British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands to the San Francisco area, were declared an endangered species in the United States and Canada after their numbers shrank...
Their summer habitat around Puget Sound is "a hot spot for PCBs" as well as "lots of other contaminants," including dioxins and chlorinated pesticides, Ross said. The Chinook salmon they eat inhabit ocean waters and rivers polluted by agriculture, pulp mills, other industries, military bases and urban runoff.
Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times reports that the previous rulings to protect the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta smelt are being felt by the agri-business giants in the Westlands Water District. The LA Times had the story on Dec 16, 2008 about how Federal wildlife officials will cut water flows to Southern California from the Delta. Now the water thirsty district is feeling the new restrictions.
The skies are producing more rain and snow than expected over Northern California, but it will not be enough to dramatically improve chances of avoiding a severe drought year that could force Contra Costa residents to ration water and already is affecting farmers' planting plans.
Depleted reservoirs, a snowpack that still is expected to be about one-third lower than average after the clouds blow away and a raft of new water rules meant to revive collapsing fish populations are combining to severely pinch water supplies.
The nation's largest irrigation district, the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, told growers this week it expected to get zero Delta water this year, something that has never happened before.
The Contra Costa Water District, preparing for the possibility that it will receive less than half of the water needed for residential customers, is buying water from farmers in the region but still could be forced to ration water.
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water to the Contra Costa Water District, Westlands and others, announced its reservoirs are about one-third full, about half the normal level this time of year.
Stop suction mining
So it seems incredible that in the creeks and tributaries of the state's major rivers where salmon lay their eggs, suction gold mine dredging continues under regulations that are now 15 years old. These rules are badly out of date and inadequate to protect dwindling number of fish.
NOAA 8 Part Plan to Restore Orca Populations (Jan 2008)
Prey Availability: Support salmon restoration efforts in the region including habitat...
Oil Spills: Prevent oil spills and improve response preparation to minimize effects on Southern Residents and their habitat in the event of a spill.
Acoustic Effects: minimize potential impacts from anthropogenic sound.
Education and Outreach: Enhance public awareness, educate the public on actions they can participate in to conserve killer whales and improve reporting of Southern Resident killer whale sightings and strandings.
Response to Sick, Stranded, Injured Killer Whales:
Transboundary and Interagency Coordination:
Research and Monitoring:
This screams out for action. I'm no expert on water treatment plants, but it seems like building some of these as well as desalinization plants would be a better option than continuing the dumping of waste water into streams and rivers. The desalination plants would be for Southern California so that they don't need Northern California to float down billions of gallons each year. It should be an easy sell to Republicans who are worried about America losing our competitiveness with other countries. They need to see what the UAE is doing!
Desalination Plants wiki
Large-scale desalination typically uses large amounts of energy as well as specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it very costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or groundwater. The large energy reserves of many Middle Eastern countries, along with their relative water scarcity, have led to extensive construction of desalination in this region. By mid-2007, Middle Eastern desalination accounted for close to 75% of total world capacity.
The world's largest desalination plant is the Jebel Ali Desalination Plant (Phase 2) in the United Arab Emirates. It is a dual-purpose facility that uses multi-stage flash distillation and is capable of producing 300 million cubic meters of water per year, or about 2500 gallons (1 Gallon US = 3.785 litres) of water per second. The largest desalination plant in the United States is the one at Tampa Bay, Florida, which began desalinizing 25 million gallons (95000 m³) of water per day in December 2007. The Tampa Bay plant runs at around 12% the output of the Jebel Ali Desalination Plants.
If I'm reading this website right the desalination plant cost around $550M to build, but the larger cost was the $1.7B Power Plant to power the desalination. Building this type of thing in Southern California would probably not be a shovel ready project, but certainly would qualify as a long term investment in infrastructure. Ideally it wouldn't be that far from shovel ready. The contract for Dubai's Desal plant was awarded in Feb '07 and the plant is expected to be comissioned in '09.
To catch up on Salmon News please check my previous diaries
George Bush's Presidency All Bad? Poll + Salmon News
"This is the Beacon for Hope and The Fish Are Gone"
A Christmas Miracle: A Million Salmon Saved + Harry Reid
George Bush helps the Environment?!? + Deadly Salmon Infections
and if you only read one read this one
Salmon Bailout, Orcas Dying, Sea Lion Scapegoats
UPDATE: Add to the What Now List:
Changing from water intensive agriculture like cotton to hemp
Books to read about water wars: Cadillac Desert